Glens and Old Lonan Church, 1st Feb 2022

There are stories in these glens, ones of murder, mystery and ghosts. The U3A walk started at Little Mill at the top end of Onchan. The path down into Molly Quirk’s Glen is always slippery so do take care. It is a very pleasant walk through the trees and over the stumps keeping a little height above the river. It is quite an open woodland here, no doubt helped by the numerous instances of thefts and vandalism over the ages, reported crimes occuring as late as 1964 and 1972. The biggest crime was the supposed murder of Molly Quirk, aka Margaret Emmeline Isabel Quirk, the one time rich landowner, but there has never been any evidence to support this. Even so, you might see her ghostly shape appearing from within the trees from time to time.

The river is small at this point until the bridge at Whitebridge Road. There has been a bridge here since 1634, impeding the transition from Molly Quirk’s Glen to Groudle Glen. This was rectified when a path was constructed under the bridge, mostly courtesy of the Onchan Rotary Club (thank you!) in a timely 3 months in 2001!

Groudle Glen (Glion Ghroudal to give it its Manx name) owns its success to local entrepreneur Richard Maltby Broadbent who created this lustrous woodland in the late 19th century, planting hundreds of trees – beeches higher up, pines and larch lower down, replacing a lot of marshy scrubland. In the spring it is a delight with numerous bluebells forming a blue canopy throughout the glen. It is therefore a largely manufactured glen, with the exception of its own noticeable natural feature – the slimline canyon, where the water topples over the Manx slate down to the sea. Not only did Broadbent create a natural haven he incorporated the Alton Towers of its day, with all kinds of attraction in the valley and along the coast. To think, in its hey day the glen attracted 100,000 vistors each season!

We followed the woodland path beside the river to the Little Isabella waterwheel and pumphouse (used for pumping water up to the Groudle Hotel, built by you-know-who). This has been restored in 2021 and is working again, and it looks very smart. Just beyond here is a small station, part of Broadbent’s legacy. We walked along the tracks up to the lime kiln and then took the old packhorse path (now lane) from Douglas to Ramsey on to the top of the cliff to make our way to Old Lonan Church. If we didn’t know it before, we knew now just how windy it was!!

It is good to follow ancient tracks and to imagine who has walked these paths before. Who knows? Maybe the Culdees from Ireland who founded the old church? The contrast of scenery is dramatic, from the closed-in valley to the rolling hills and distant mountain vistas. Old Lonan Church (aka St. Adamnan’s Church) is tucked away off the well-beaten track and its spirituality is rooted in antiquity. It was originally called Keeill-ny-Traie, which means Chapel by the Shore, though it’s hard to see quite which shore it is referring to, unless Port Groudle.

St. Adamnan was the Abbott of Iona between 679-704. He has a rich pedigree being the biographer of St. Columba. However, he liked to rock the boat and was excommunicated for translating the Mass and scriptures into Manx. I wonder if these still exist?

The church itself has seen several make-overs, and the archaeology tells us this is a very ancient site. It is believed that the Irish missionaries first made their mark here in AD447, which is only just after the Romans left Britain. It would have been a very simple site. In the grounds you will see the Wheel Cross, which is one of the oldest true Gaelic crosses in Britain. It is 8ft high and in these early stages of Christianity it would have been the central gathering place for worship, almost having the status of an altar.

The oldest part of the church (12C) is that which is now derelict contains “poor holes” which the infirm or leprous could still receive alms without entering the church. In 1190 the land was given to St Bees in Cumbria, and there is evidence from the sandstone lintels that stones were imported from England to create the doorways. The old church is bigger than the new church which was restored by John Quine (vicar) in 1895. The location of this church was not useful for the parishioners which is why new churches have come and gone to cater for modern needs, but this church has been restored and is immensely peaceful along with its beautiful grounds, which contain a shelter with other simple gaelic crosses.

Having taken our lunch here we retraced our steps to Groudle Glen and the port. In the 16C there was a thriving Mill here and lakes with lily pads, but the Mill has gone and the lily ponds hard to find. The Glen was sold to Onchan Village Commissioners and the holiday village which still exists was sold to a private buyer.

We followed lanes and roads back to our starting point in Onchan. One really gets the feeling of housing threatening the natural countryside, being just a stone’s throw from the glens of Molly Quirk and Groudle.

A fascinating, easy walk, that can be done in about 3 hours, without too much ascent.

Molly Quirk Glen & Groudle Glen – 27th July. Approx 7 miles.

This walk began rather inauspiciously as I took a recognised short cut to the start of Molly Quirk Glen and promptly slid banana-skin like down the wet and slippery path ending up on my backside. Being accustomed to such actions I know not to brace myself with my handsĀ  so I only have a few scratches on my hands and my wrists remain intact!

It was all rather excellent after that. Molly Quirk Glen (currently under repair but mostly completed) is an unspoilt and pretty glen, with good footpaths. It has a quietness that makes it special. It eventually merges into Groudle Glen. You can tell when you are nearing the join as you can hear traffic on the high road and I was lucky enough to see the Ramsey tram going over the viaduct as I passed underneath. Groudle Glen is entirely manufactured, created by Richard Maltby Broadbent in 1893, making the most of a very small natural canyon.

Images of Molly Quirk Glen

Beyond this, entering Groudle Glen ‘proper’ this has a different feel, and different geology too. There are some small waterfalls and some big slabs of slate bordering the stream. The Mill wheel is under repair and the building has been removed and is surrounded by scaffolding. The paths are really good, and although if you start from the high road and walk down to the Glen it is a little steep, it is accessible for most people, and if you parked down at the beach you would be able to take a wheelchair along part of it and pay a visit to the Groudle Glen Wizard!

The main features of Groudle Glen

A glen is a glen is a glen so the photos look pretty much the same, though it was noticeable that this glen has a lot of beech trees, many of which had massive roots and some had toppled and been allowed to stay lodged over the stream.

I reached the pebble beach just as it began to rain. The rocks and cliffs form very unusual shapes as if standing on end. I followed the coast path up to the Seal Rocks cafe, where the tiny steam train line ends. This would be about 2.5 miles from the start of Molly Quirk Glen if you don’t do any detours. There is a cafe here that sells drinks and sandwiches, but only when the train is running. This miniature railway was originally opened in 1896 to take people to view the attractions in the water zoo which included seals and polar bears, but is now just a pleasant trip for adults and children alike. The views from here are lovely and on a nice day it would be a nice spot to stop for a picnic. You can just make out the cafe in one of the photos.

It is not possible to walk along the coast past this point. Rather than walk back exactly the same way, I followed the redirected coast path and walked up to a quiet road and walked along the top of the hill, turning left at the main road. There was another entrance into Groudle Glen so I ventured inside partly to get out of the rain and wandered happily about for a while before retracing my steps on the road to Groudle Glen tram station.

At this point, I descended back into Groudle Glen near to the viaduct. I was amazed how much extra water there was on my return visit. On the outward stretch I had watched a fish trying to get over an obstacle and failing, whereas it would have had no trouble now. The rain brought out all the scents of the flowers, especially the Meadowsweet as brushed past them on the path.

I had no choice but the follow the same route back beside the stream, but there was an upper path, which afforded slightly different views and kept me reasonably dry.

The total distance was just under 7 miles, with 511ft of ascent and 508ft of descent. It is a very very easy walk and very nice for a quiet afternoon stroll. One for all ages.

Groudle Glen